Wednesday, January 13, 2010

23 Clarinets, One Bassoon

TigerBlog Jr. pulled the bassoon/tenor sax double last night at the middle school winter concert.

It was quite a show the kids put on. Four different groups played: the sixth grade concert band followed by the school orchestra, the jazz band and then the 7th and 8th grade concert band; all four were very good.

TBJ went tenor sax in the jazz band and then bassoon in the orchestra. In sports terms, it's sort of like swimming the 100 free and the 1,650 free or running the 200 and the 5,000. Actually, the best comparison would be playing attack in the first half of a lacrosse game and goalie in the second half. They're somewhat related, but not quite all that close.

The bassoon is an odd instrument. It's a double-reed instrument that looks like an oversized clarinet and plays a deep, low, soothing sound. It's not a very commonly taken up instrument, and the 7/8 grade concert band roster featured 23 clarinets and one bassoon. For some reason, TBJ loves it, in much the same way as he loves playing goalie in lacrosse; he is gravitating towards trying to excel at things that not too many others want to do.

TigerBlog looks at events like last night's in much the same way as he did when Little Miss TigerBlog was in "Meet Me In St. Louis" last month.

The lineup was filled with kids with whom TBJ has played sports through the years, including one named Corey Gavin, whom TB coached in flag football and lacrosse for about three or four years. Back in the fourth grade, TB remembers the complete joy he felt when Corey finally scored a goal in lacrosse, something he did in the last game of the season. TB can still see it, as Corey took the ball at the goal line extended, came in front and fired one in. He then sprinted off the field to the sideline, where his coach gave him a big hug, with a tear or two welling up. Corey is now one of the better seventh-grade sax players around.

TB looks at theater and music as a cousin of athletics. In many ways, sports are closer to playing music than anything else, in that you have to be responsible first and foremost for your own preparation, for your own work ethic, for your own willingness to turn off the TV or shut off the video games and to practice, practice, practice. Only then can you make your best contribution to the team - or the orchestra.

TigerBlog can't remember who was the one who said it about the other, but it involved Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as one essentially said: "Every time I think about relaxing, I ask myself what he's doing, and then I go practice."

Middle school students aren't quite at the point where they need that level of commitment, and in fact too much too soon is as bad as not making an effort at this stage. Still, they're getting awfully close to the point in their lives where they do need to start to push themselves.

Ultimately, that's going to be the biggest difference between being okay or good or being good and great. Talent is a start; hard work is what makes the difference.

TigerBlog wrote a story about Brian Earl when he was finishing his basketball career at Princeton. In that story, Earl talked about how he became such a good outside shooter, one whose 281 career three-pointers were the most in the Ivy League until earlier this season, when Cornell's Ryan Wittman broke it. Earl's 281 threes are still 46 more than the next-best total in school history, held by Sean Jackson (who granted only played 2.5 seasons).

Earl talked about coming home from school in junior high school and shooting at a basket in a barn, over and over and over. That's how he developed his talent.

The most legendary example at Princeton is Bill Bradley, whose work ethic became immortalized in John McPhee's "A Sense Of Where You Are," which began as a magazine story in "The New Yorker" before becoming the first of McPhee's 28 books. The title refers to a sense of where Bradley was on the court in relation to the basket and how scoring from any particular spot became second nature after taking 100, 500, 1,000 shots from that distance and location.

Current senior swimmer Alicia Aemisegger, the No. 1 Princeton female athlete of the last decade, is known for her amazing work ethic and how much time she put in to becoming one of the best swimmers in the country.

Their stories are not unique. It's easy to play video games, to text, to watch TV, to sleep late. It's hard to walk away form those things and practice in solitude, whether it's swimming laps, shooting basketballs (or hockey pucks or lacrosse balls or soccer balls), running, lifting weights and any other athletic endeavor or practicing bassoon or sax or trumpet or any other instrument over and over.

It's a simple formula: talent + work = a sense of where you are.

One other interesting aspect of the concert involved technology. During the event, almost the entire audience was recording, whether it be on a cell phone, an i-phone, a flip cam or any other really, really, really small device. When it was over, pretty much every kid was carrying an instrument in a case in one hand while turning on/operating/texting/updating his or her cell phone. And these are middle school kids.

It got TigerBlog thinking about marketing, of course. We used to talk about "getting in the backpacks" as a way of spreading the word, and this clearly referred to getting printed materials to kids in schools to bring home to their parents.

Now it's more important to think in terms of "getting into the cell phones." You want to reach kids and their parents these days? That's how to do it.

Almost every kid has a cell phone by sixth grade, and the texting and other ways of communicating are non-stop.

Well, hopefully not non-stop. They're reaching the age where they need to start getting a sense of where they are.

Hopefully they'll stop texting long enough to make that happen.

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